HEISER: High school sports marketing here to stay

Steve Heiser
  • York County high schools have already sold various athletic marketing rights
  • The District 3 Championship are sponsored by M&T Bank.
  • The PIAA has a number of corporate partnerships.

High school sports are often viewed as one of the final bastions of pure amateur athletics.

The competitors play for the simple love of the game, with no financial incentives expected or delivered.

It's a large part of the virtuous appeal of prep sports.

That's why some folks get uncomfortable when commercialization creeps in at the scholastic level. It tarnishes what they view as an untainted endeavor.

Those purists, however, have been uncomfortable for quite some time now, and they're likely going to get more uneasy in the future.

Marketing here to stay: That's because the marketing of high school athletics has exploded in recent years, and it shows no signs of slowing any time soon.

There's a simple reason for that. High school athletics are seriously expensive.

Facilities, uniforms, insurance, transportation, coaches, ticket takers and officials are just some of the more obvious costs associated with prep sports.

When you combine that overhead and multiply it by a dozen or more sports for both genders across junior high, junior varsity and varsity levels … well it adds up exponentially.

Then you need to throw two other factors into the mix — school district budgets are stretched perilously thin, and taxpayers are gravely overburdened.

Something has to give, and that something is the purist viewpoint about the marketing of high school sports.

Commercialization is here to stay in scholastic sports, and that's not necessarily a bad thing — when done within reason.

Mutually beneficial partnerships: York County high schools have already sold marketing rights for ticket booths, press boxes, scoreboards, tennis courts and even student sections.

Logos from apparel manufacturers, such as this one for Under Armour, are already seen on many high school uniforms.

The York-Adams League is sponsored by OSS Health Sports Medicine, the District 3 Championships are brought to you by M&T Bank, and the PIAA has multiple corporate partners.

In all  those cases, the sponsors and the athletic programs both seem to benefit. The sponsors receive advertising exposure, and the sports programs get a much-needed infusion of cash.

From all indications, it's a win-win.

Still, there's a line that can't be crossed here. The commercialization can't get too crass or too garish.

Fortunately, the school administrators and officials at the league, district and PIAA level have been acutely aware of this, at least so far.

The scholastic marketing that's been done thus far has been mostly classy and relatively unobtrusive.

The jersey question: No one wants to see “Bubba's Roadhouse” emblazoned across the back of some teenager's jersey.

But should any ads be allowed on a prep athlete's uniform?

That could be the next decision that scholastic officials have to make.

The NBA has already made it. On Monday, the Philadelphia 76ers announced that StubHub would have a logo on their jerseys next year. The 76ers join soccer teams across the the world in allowing such ads. However, the NBA is the first of the major U.S. pro sports leagues to do it, but you can expect the NFL, NHL and MLB to follow suit in fairly short order. Those leagues don't like leaving money on the table.

But should the trend trickle down to the scholastic level?

Right now, such ads are prohibited by the PIAA, which has stringent rules governing athletic uniforms. That ban likely won't change anytime soon.

However, over the next decade, if the financial crisis in our schools continues (and it will likely only get worse), some struggling member schools might push the PIAA to allow such jersey ads in an effort to open up a new revenue stream.

It's an idea worthy of consideration, especially if the jersey ads are small, tasteful and regulated.

After all, there's already a form of marketing on most scholastic uniforms, or haven't you noticed the Under Armour, Nike, Russell or Reebok logos? Are they really all that different than a small ad for a bank or medical facility?

The short answer is no.

Small jersey ads would obviously add to the commercialization of prep sports. To a degree, they would make the athletes into running billboards.

If done properly, however, they shouldn't cross the line into poor taste. And they would hopefully alleviate the burden on athletic budgets and the taxpayers.

If that can be accomplished, it's a small price to pay.

 Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.